A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself,
But the simple pass on and are punished.
Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago recently did an experiment designed to study “restraint bias” – i.e. how people often miscalculate how much temptation they can handle. In a two-part study of people trying to quit smoking, one group of randomly-chosen smokers were TOLD they displayed an unusually high resistance to temptation, and another group were TOLD they had a tendency to fail. The study found that the ones who were told they could handle temptation actually failed more often than those who had been told they they were more likely to fail. In short, the confidence of the first group was their undoing, and the lack of confidence in the second group led them to be more careful. It doesn’t take a scientist to see the implications of this when it comes to all sorts of sin in the Christian life.
As we see in the Proverb above, God knows we are less careful than we ought to be in the face of evil, often thinking ourselves wiser or better than the evils we face. That, of course, is when we fall. Or, as it is said elsewhere in the Proverbs (and we all should remember by now):
Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
Being confident of our strength in the Lord is good. And it is good to have faith that when we face temptation then God will always give us a means of escape. (1 Corinthians 10:13) But, as the first Proverb above tells us, thinking we can handle any temptation at all and then boldly walking into potentially sinful situations is simply a recipe for disaster.
Those researchers at Northwestern didn’t tell us anything new, nothing that God hadn’t already told us directly or indirectly through His Word. I suppose some folks just need to see some sort of scientific proof that we humans are prideful and foolish – as if we don’t prove that to ourselves every time we fall into sin and rue the decisions that brought us there. So, the next time we feel we can handle a tempting situation all on our own, we ought to follow another bit of Solomon’s advice:
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
Heavenly Father, I have said the prayer many times: “lead me not into temptation.” Today, Lord God, teach me to understand just how much I can handle and how much You will strengthen me to handle. Guide me away from evil, and when evil is unavoidable, please snatch me away and rescue me. Let me live a life better conformed to Your will than to my own willfulness. Amen.